Kirkus Star


Email this review


This is an account of a young woman's experiences in French Equatorial Africa before World War II. Mary Motley's maternal grandmother was the daughter of Leonard Jerome. Her sister, Jennie, married Lord Randolph Churchill and the third Jerome daughter married Sir John Leslie. Miss Motley's mother was Clare Sheridan, the sculptress, and her father was a descendant of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. She borrows her pen name from her great-grandfather, John Lothrop Motley, the American historian. Mary Motley married Guy de Reneville when she was twenty and when he was appointed Chef de Cabinet Militaire to the Governor General of French Equatorial Africa she accompanied him to the French Congo. The acquaintance she had made with Africa in southern Algeria was a poor preparation for what she found in Brazzaville. She thought that the ports of West Africa were the most unpleasant places in the world: the oven heat and rainy seasons over the years had given the region an air of damp antiquity and the sight of the men and women who had spent too much time in the tropics dismayed her. But amidst the dreary round of official receptions, garden parties and general colonial stuffiness she managed to cultivate an interest in what lay beyond the bounds of protocol. Unbelieving at first she discovered the dim and ancient world of the fetish, of ritual murder and of cannibalism in a country where death from causes unknown was daily taken for granted. After two years her husband's failing health forced them to leave the Congo and by that time she was longing to get away from ""the opalescent haze, the mildew and the perpetual stench of rotting vegetation"". Mary Motley is a perceptive observer and her account, written 18 years later in a mood of ""settled affection and disillusioned placidity"", remains exceptionally interesting.

Pub Date: May 19th, 1960
Publisher: Viking